Royal Society accused of allowing ‘anti-scientific coal baron’ to preach benefits of global warming

‘You couldn’t invent a better climate-change-denier villain,’ says Professor Michael Mann

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One of the world’s leading climatologists has attacked Britain’s prestigious Royal Society for hosting an “anti-scientific” speech about the benefits of global warming by “coal baron” and “climate change denier villain” Matt Ridley.

Viscount Ridley, a journalist and hereditary peer, insisted mainstream scientists were exaggerating the risks because they had a “vested interest in alarm” during the event run by the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a sceptic think tank, at the world’s oldest scientific institution.

He claimed “environmental predictions of doom” would “always” turn out to be wrong; the “best evidence” suggested the planet would not get as warm as experts predict; and that climate models had been “consistently wrong”. 

Higher amounts of carbon dioxide, which plants use to grow, were also causing beneficial “global greening”, Lord Ridley said, citing academic research.

However, Professor Michael Mann, who led research that produced the famous “hockey stick” graph showing how humans were dramatically increasing the Earth’s temperature, accused Lord Ridley of buying “into the sort of conspiratorial thinking uttered by Donald Trump”. The US presidential candidate has claimed global warming is a hoax perpetrated by China on the US.

The Royal Society’s decision to host the speech was “presumably as a gesture of ‘open-mindedness’”, Professor Mann, of Penn State University in the US, told The Independent.

“The motto of the Royal Society is ‘Nullius in verba’, which translates to ‘take nobody's word for it’. It is an affirmation of legitimate scepticism, but not the sort of pseudo-sceptical, anti-scientific, bad-faith contrarianism displayed by the Matt Ridleys of the world,” he added.

The suggestion by Lord Ridley, who was chairman of Northern Rock until 2007 when the bank had to be rescued by the Government, that scientists were deliberately exaggerating the danger of climate change was “classic projection”, Professor Mann said.

“It is the technique of accusing your ‘opponent’ of doing the very same thing you are doing, in the hope of confusing honest observers and deflecting attention from the awful things you are doing,” he said.

“Matt Ridley is a coal baron who profits directly from the sale of fossil fuel reserves while the rest of us suffer the consequences. You couldn’t invent a better climate-change-denier villain.”

According to the Desmog environmental website, Lord Ridley’s 8,500-acre family estate, Blagdon, contains coal mines that have reserves estimated to be worth £336m and from which he receives payments. 

“Now consider, instead, the scientists. The only ‘agenda’ of the scientific community is to advance knowledge, and there is a rigorous system of peer-review and scientific assessments like those carried out by the US National Academy of Sciences, the Royal Society and the IPCC, to assess the scientific consensus on matters like climate change,” he said.

“What Ridley does here is known in the community as the ‘gish gallop’. It is the tactic of throwing as much mud on the wall as possible and hope that some of it sticks, to throw out as many misleading claims and falsehoods as possible so that the audience is, at the very least, left with doubt in their mind.”

Professor Mann said climate models had done a “remarkable job” of predicting the global warming, pointing to a 1998 experiment by James Hansen, then head of the Nasa Goddard Institute for Space Studies, which he said had successfully predicted the temperature rises in the subsequent decades.

The idea that predictions of doom were always wrong was a “commonly deployed false accusation made by fossil fuel industry-funded climate-change deniers”, the scientist said.

And the “best evidence” about the Earth’s future warming was that it “most likely lies on the high side of the currently cited range (2 to 4.5C)”, he said.

This was “just the opposite of what Ridley claims by cherry-picking the literature and misrepresenting the actual peer-reviewed research on this matter”.

The Royal Society said the arguments in Lord Ridley’s lecture were “not new and will not change the current scientific consensus on climate change”. 

“That consensus is based on many extensive data and analyses from different lines of investigation undertaken over several decades by expert scientists from across the world. The science has been extensively discussed and challenged in open debate,” a spokesperson said.

“The idea that such worldwide agreement would be the result of a huge conspiracy or a nearly complete corruption of the well-established process of peer review does not strike us as reasonable.”

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Before the speech, the Royal Society had issued a statement essentially warning the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) to stick to policy issues, rather than the science.

“The Society has a strong track record of opposing those who cherry pick or misrepresent evidence when it comes to the science of climate change and indeed we have had robust disagreements with the GWPF in the past,” it added.

“If the GWPF use this opportunity to misrepresent the scientific evidence, it would undermine the legitimacy of their views on policy responses to climate change.”

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Professor Ranga Myneni, of Boston University, whose work about ‘global greening’ was cited by Lord Ridley, also attacked the way his research had been presented.

“There is no evidence to count on carbon dioxide fertilization benefit. Personally, I would not buy the fertilization benefit for the price of global warming (and all the impacts that this warming implies),” he wrote in a statement responding to Lord Ridley’s speech.

And he added: “Lord Ridley discounts global warming and impacts. Yet, he is all for the fertilisation benefit. 

“He assumes that the people behind the science have malevolent motives … How sensible is it to argue that thousands and thousands of scientists are somehow in cahoots to push the global warming hoax on innocent people of the world?”

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